2019 Texas Truck Rodeo: Comparing the Finalists

Texas Truck Rodeo wide-view

Thereís perhaps no better setting than the Texas Hill Country for an event that automakers and automotive journalists look forward to every year, and that is the Texas Truck Rodeo. Though the event is broader than its name implies, as it also involves SUVs and crossovers.

The annual competition held by the Texas Auto Writers Association gives its members, including yours truly, a chance to judge vehicles on a number of criteria, then pick the Truck of Texas, SUV of Texas and Compact SUV of Texas, along with a few others.

While the awards are certainly coveted by automakers, the event has a much larger impact beyond handing out trophies. It ultimately gives journalists access to vehicles to provide information to car shoppers, as well as provide information to automakers about their vehicles.

While the Texas Truck Rodeo is at its core designed for all-wheel drive vehicles that can be taken on the trail in various levels of difficulty, there are always a few SUV entries delegated to city roads only. This year those vehicles included the Acura RDX and Dodge Durango SRT. It must also be said that Chevrolet and Ford were notably absent from the truck lineup, a continuing head scratcher given Texas is the number one state for truck sales and that the new redesigned Ram has had people talking from day one. The new recently unveiled 2020 Nissan Titan WAS there, however, it was for display only.

Texas Truck Rodeo wide-view

For me, this yearís most exciting and newest truck entries of note were the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator and first-ever Ram Rebel EcoDiesel, along with an updated Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. New SUVís making headlines included the sporty Kia Telluride and its platform-sharing sibling the Hyundai Palisade. The new Jeep Wrangler WILLYS as well as the first-ever Toyota Sequoia TRD Pro also came to play. It was great to see the 2020 Subaru Outback there as well, and especially its new tablet infotainment system. The Volvo XC90 T8 surprised me with its capability as did the Nissan Armada, since I generally think of these SUVs being more city slick than trail ready. But trail ready they were. Toyotaís also brought its first-ever RAV4 TRD Off-Road.

More than 50 journalists judged more than 40+ trucks and SUVs on five criteria: interior, exterior, performance, value and personal appeal. The nine finalists making up the main Truck, SUV and Compact SUV categories (below) were announced November 7th, with winners to be announced November 20th.


2020 Jeep Gladiator

  • Starting MSRP: $40,395. As equipped: $56,380.
  • 17 city/22 hwy/19 combined.

2020 Ram 1500

  • Starting MSRP: $47,740. As equipped: $58,405-$60,210.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro 4x4

  • Starting MSRP: $49,765. As equipped: $51,419.
  • 18 city/22 hwy/20 combined.

Ram and Jeep both fall under the FCA umbrella and thus are sister companies, so you can bet there is some family rivalry going on and each is in it to win it.

2020 Ram 1500

The redesigned Ram 1500 is a half-ton thatís impressed both myself and Car Pro Show host Jerry Reynolds. (Weíre not the only ones either, itís been a sales success with sales surpassing the Chevrolet Silverado.) The 1500 offers a great car-like, smooth ride thanks to Ramís unique rear coil suspension, and Ramís really stepped up its interior game on all grades. I particularly like the Laramie Longhorn. This year a new third-generation EcoDiesel delivers 260-horsepower and best-in-class 480 lb.-ft of torque along with 32 MPG (4X4). The Ram Rebel EcoDiesel handled the course easily and as youíd expect, quite capably. As Iíve previously reported, the new EcoDiesel engine is also super quiet. New for 2020, Ram is also offering a new personalized Pandora feature which is cool because among other things you name an artist out loud and the system will pull it up for you. Youíll also get Ramís new MultiFunction tailgate.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Available with three different powertrains, Jeep Gladiator is the first Jeep pickup since 1992. So if youíre looking for something thatís going to get attention on the highway, the Gladiator attracts its share of eyeballs. Itís trail rated like all Jeeps, leaving no question about its capability. Though it obviously has a truck bed, with a cargo box, itís every inch a Jeep, and by that I mean, yep you can still take the top off. Several cool features include new lockable storage behind and beneath the 2nd-row, as well as a removable wireless bluetooth speaker that you can also submerge in 3-feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road

2020 Toyota Tacoma
Credit: Kevin McCauley/Capturing the Machine

A list of notable updates, including an exclusive TRD Pro Army Green hue, make the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro a noteworthy finalist as well. It is uniquely badged with TRD Pro elements including a TRD-designed Desert Air intake, skid plate, cat-back exhaust and TRD Pro Fox exclusive shocks. 2020 brings new, lighter 16-inch lighter wheels. A new panoramic view monitor and multi terrain monitor give nearly 360 degree visibility. There is also a 5-second front undercarriage projected path video playback to help drivers see objects in their path. The Tacomaís updated multimedia system now offers Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa.


2020 Jeep Wrangler

  • Starting MSRP $38,645. As equipped $55,785.
  • 19 city/22 hwy/20 combined.

2020 Kia Telluride SX

  • Starting MSRP: $43,490; AS equipped $46,860.
  • 19 city/24 highway/21 combined.

2020 Volvo XC90

  • MSRP Starting from: $67,000. As Equipped $84,990.
  • MPG: 54 mpg combined.

These three SUVs have very distinct personalities - at different price points - that will appeal to different people. Iím a fan myself of all three of these SUVs and for different reasons.

2020 Jeep Wrangler

2020 Jeep Wrangler
Credit: Kevin McCauley/Capturing the Machine

You canít ride in an iconic Jeep Wrangler and not love it, and to get the complete experience everyone should do so with the doors and top off at least once. Itís a feeling no other SUV can provide. The 2020 lineup offers multiple powertrains (the new EcoDiesel late availability) and is one of only a few SUVs to offer a six-speed in addition to an automatic. Itís 4X4 capability comes with advanced traction systems, front and rear five-link suspension, solid axles, electronic locking differential. It can climb over rocks, ford rivers and handle the most difficult trails. A cool feature is Sky One-touch powertop on Sahara and Rubicon four-door models that allows you to open or close the Wranglerís roof with a push of a button at speeds up to 60 miles per hour (mph).

2020 Kia Telluride SX

2020 Kia Telluride
Credit: Kevin McCauley/Capturing the Machine

The 291-horsepower Kia Telluride has a really good shot at winning this category. I base this largely on the fact that I reviewed the 8-passenger SX recently and came away a huge fan. Itís a sporty, engaging ride and it delivers an incredible value for a tremendous amount of premium features (leather seats), comfort (thigh cushion extender) and driver assist technology for under $50,000. One cool standout feature in the upper trim is a blind spot monitor camera in the middle of the tachometer, that activates when you hit the turn signal. Plus you get a 10-speaker audio system and two moon roofs. Sorry, though, no power-folding third-row seats.

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription

At $84,900 (as equipped), the 7-seater Volvo XC90 T8 Inscription is certainly the most luxurious, tech-packed SUV of the bunch, and surprise surprise, it offers the most horsepower, too. The hybrid engine delivers 400-horses, substantially more than the T6 engineís 316-horses. Overall, this is a sleek, sophisticated package packed with Volvoís well-known safety features and one of my favorite tablet-style infotainment systems. It is surprisingly capable on the trail and I could see families taking it on for treks to a ski or lake cabin. Plus, if youíre looking for a luxury SUV, how can you say no to a crystal knob gear shift. There are some tweaks to the exterior for 2020 along with a new Birch Light Metallic hue.


2020 Hyundai Santa Fe

  • Starting MSRP: $25,900. As equipped: $38,730.
  • 20 city, 27 hwy, 23 combined.

2019 Mazda CX-5 AWD

  • Starting MSRP: $36,990. As equipped: $38,360.
  • 22 city, 27 hwy, 24 combined.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

  • Starting MSRP: 32,900. As Equipped: $36,904.
  • 25 city, 33 hwy, 28 combined.

2020 Hyundai Santa Fe

2020 Hyundai Santa Fe
Credit: Kevin McCauley/Capturing the Machine

The Hyundai Santa Fe offers two powertrains, this one being the turbocharged 2.0-liter good for 235-horsepower and mated to an 8-speed transmission. A newly-developed Blind-View Monitor, a camera view of your blind spot when the turn signal is activated, is standard on Limited models. Wireless charging is now available standard on SEL models and above. The Santa Fe also offers Rear Occupant Alert and a head-up display.

2019 Mazda CX-5

2019 Mazda CX-5
Credit: Kevin McCauley/Capturing the Machine

The 2019 CX-5 is a story about two things. Mazdaís fun to drive handling and its impressive near-premium interiors on the higher trims, like the Signature with Nappa leather and genuine layered wood trim. Itís definitely a contender here. It has a new turbocharged engine (227-hp with regular gas, 250-hp using premium.) I just wish Mazda would update the 6-speed automatic transmission. You can check out my previous review of the Mazda CX-5 here.

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

2020 Toyota Rav4
Credit: Kevin McCauley/Capturing the Machine

The RAV4 is currently the best-selling SUV in America and is likely to take the sales crown this year. With sales so hot, Toyota certainly didnít have to add this Lunar Rock-hued TRD Off-Road trim to the lineup, so my hats off to them for keeping things interesting. Based on the redesigned RAV4 it is different from the Adventure grade, with more capability. It features specially-tuned off-suspension, 18-inch wheels, top roof rack. I found it very capable and easy to drive. Though Toyotaís 219-horsepower hybrid engine would be my choice over the standard 202-hp gas-only. That said, MPG-wise the RAV4 is the most fuel efficient of the bunch.

Stay tuned for the final results, which will be announced by the Texas Auto Writers Association on November 20th ahead of the San Antonio Auto and Truck Show.
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